Causes & Effects of Substance Abuse

No one experiences substance abuse the same way as someone else. Understanding the signs, symptoms and side effects of substance abuse is a key component toward starting the recovery journey.

Understanding Drug Addiction

Learn about drug addiction

While many young people experiment with substances, there are a number of youth who go beyond experimentation and use drugs or alcohol to an extent that it is defined as substance abuse. A problem of this kind becomes a dilemma when substance using behaviors and the consequences that can ensue, adversely impact a person’s overall wellbeing. Young people who abuse substances may have a hard time achieving academically, abstaining from risky behaviors, and developing healthy interpersonal relationships with others. Ongoing substance use can also render a number of perilous psychological and physiological effects that are oftentimes irreversible.

If a parent or caregiver suspects that his or her child is abusing drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, synthetic marijuana, or prescription medications, or alcohol, it is imperative that treatment be sought for substance abuse in order to reduce the risk of that child experiencing more severe effects. Effective treatment for this type of problem can help young people achieve sobriety and learn new methods for coping that can be of service for a lifetime. Additionally, care for a substance use problem can also address any underlying concerns that may have contributed to the development of a chemical dependency problem.

Statistics

Drug addiction statistics

Sadly, there is a high number of young people who use and/or abuse drugs and/or alcohol. Research has found that 9% of youth over the age of twelve in the United States have used drugs or consumed alcohol at some point. This estimate equates to approximately 24 million young people in America.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for drug addiction

Experts on addiction have concluded that there are a number of causes and risk factors that can lead a person to abuse drugs or alcohol. Consider the following explanations of how one’s genes, physiological makeup, and environment, in addition to other risk factors, can make a person more susceptible to the development of a substance abuse problem:

Genetic: A significant amount of research has concluded that a person can have a genetic predisposition to addiction. The support behind this finding lay in the fact that those with a family history of substance abuse, addiction, and/or dependence often use or abuse substance(s) at some point in life as well.

Physical: Using drugs and/or alcohol can adversely impact the overall physical health of an individual. Healthy brain functioning can become compromised, which could lead to a great deal of difficulty when it comes to managing emotions, resisting impulses, retaining motor functioning, and making good decisions. Lastly, drug and alcohol use can severely damage the way in which vital organs function, an effect that can cause permanent damage.

Environmental: There are a number of environmental influences or situations that can trigger the onset of a substance abuse problem. For example, young people who bear witness to caregivers who abuse substances may go on to experiment or abuse drugs or alcohol at some point as well. Additionally, youth who have peers that encourage substance use are likely to experiment with substances. This is especially the case if that youth does not have the tools to resist such pressure, effective coping skills for dealing with possible peer rejection, or the necessary support to rely on if this type of peer pressure is present. Finally, if a young person experiences abuse, neglect, or trauma early in life, and especially if these circumstance are withstanding, there is an increased chance that drugs and/or alcohol will be abused        

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Exposure to the use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Family history of substance use, abuse, addiction, or dependence
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Poor parenting
  • Poor parental attachment
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to trauma / abuse / neglect
  • Easy access to drugs and/or alcohol
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inadequate network of support
  • Peer pressure to use substances
  • Underdeveloped coping skills
  • Chaotic / stressful home environment
  • Pre-existing or undiagnosed mental health condition or conditions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of drug addiction

The signs of substance abuse can vary depending on the type of substance that is being used and/or abused. Additionally, the length of time an individual has been partaking in such behaviors can greatly impact the apparentness of a substance abuse problem. The following signs and symptoms suggest that a person is using and/or abusing drugs and/or alcohol and often elicit treatment in order to prevent overdose from occurring:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Chronic use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Damaging property
  • Poor impulse control
  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities
  • Getting in trouble at school or in the community
  • Lying or omitting information
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Switching friends
  • Slowed or rapid speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Stealing

Physical symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Changes in sleep
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Decline in good hygiene
  • Dilated or constricted pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hindered ability to form and/or store memories
  • Declined ability to concentrate
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Altered state of perception

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • Unexplained emotional outbursts
  • Decrease in motivation levels
  • Paranoia

Effects

Effects of drug addiction

The effects of substance use and/or abuse can span across several areas of a person’s life. Children and adolescents who abuse drugs and/or alcohol are known to experience adversity in their academic, familial, and social lives. Additionally, there are a number of harmful consequences that can impact a young person’s health and overall wellbeing when substances are used or abused in both the short-term and long-term. The following effects could potentially occur if a youth continues to use or abuse drugs and/or alcohol and does not receive care to end this type of problematic behavior:

  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Expulsion from school
  • Addiction or dependence on substances
  • Development of a mental health condition(s)
  • Worsening symptoms of a preexisting mental health condition(s)
  • Collapsed veins
  • Vital organ damage
  • Vital organ failure
  • Overall decline in physical and mental health
  • Exposure to viruses
  • Potential for infection
  • Interaction with law enforcement
  • Malnutrition
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Withdrawal
  • Memory loss
  • Demise of interpersonal relationships
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Overdose
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Drug addiction and co-occurring disorders

The signs of substance abuse can vary depending on the type of substance that is being used and/or abused. Additionally, the length of time an individual has been partaking in such behaviors can greatly impact the apparentness of a substance abuse problem. The following signs and symptoms suggest that a person is using and/or abusing drugs and/or alcohol and often elicit treatment in order to prevent overdose from occurring:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Chronic use or abuse of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Engaging in risky behavior
  • Engaging in criminal activity
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Damaging property
  • Poor impulse control
  • Inability to adhere to responsibilities
  • Getting in trouble at school or in the community
  • Lying or omitting information
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Switching friends
  • Slowed or rapid speech
  • Impaired coordination
  • Stealing

Physical symptoms:

  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Changes in sleep
  • Increase or decrease in appetite
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Slurred speech
  • Vomiting
  • Decline in good hygiene
  • Dilated or constricted pupils

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hindered ability to form and/or store memories
  • Declined ability to concentrate
  • Disorientation
  • Confusion
  • Altered state of perception

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Personality changes
  • Unexplained emotional outbursts
  • Decrease in motivation levels
  • Paranoia

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Withdrawal: Prolonged use of drugs and/or alcohol could elicit withdrawal should an individual suddenly stop using a substance or substances. Some withdrawal symptoms occur immediately and some can manifest hours and even days later. Additionally, some withdrawal symptoms can be both psychologically and physiologically damaging, with a number of withdrawal symptoms having the potential to be life threatening. The listed symptoms are those of withdrawal and could warrant emergency medical attention in order to reduce the likelihood of a grave outcome:

  • Muscle tension
  • Psychosis
  • Intense cravings for continued use
  • Depressed mood
  • Tremors
  • Panic
  • Anxious feelings
  • Agitation
  • Chills
  • Clammy skin
  • Paleness
  • Bone pain

Overdose: Overdosing on a substance can be quite dangerous. Medical attention is almost always required in the event a person is experiencing this detrimental side effect of substance abuse. Furthermore, it is important to know that that signs of overdose can vary depending on the substance that is causing an overdose to occur. The following are indicators that a person is overdosing and should elicit some form of medical intervention:

  • Confusion
  • Skin tone changes
  • Fever
  • Sweating
  • Slowed pulse
  • Labored breathing
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Chest pain
  • Tightening in one’s chest
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

What Past Clients Say

I now know that the underlying cause of my drinking and partying is because of my past trauma, which I tried to pretend never happened. DBI helped me face that trauma head-on and now I'm making better decisions and am happier than I thought possible.

– A former client